Some time last week I got a random call from a well known modeling school, asking me to come in for a free audition for a casting director who was looking for new faces for television shows and modeling assignments. At first I was going to outright reject the offer but then got an idea. I explained to the man that I had already been acting and modeling for many years and currently got out of my contract with Ford and was looking for new agency representation. He seemed really surprised that I was already working in the industry so he said that if I auditioned I would be meeting with the casting director herself instead of one of their other scouts. I firmly told him I had no intention of paying for any classes or training. He explained that if I did a good audition I would get a call back and they would then determine whether I had what it took or if I needed to take classes. He reassured me that I would not be forced to sign up for classes if I did not want to.
After giving this some considerable thought, I figured, why the heck not? I get so many emails from aspiring models asking about my position on the whole modeling school/convention issue and even though I make it plain what my opinion is, they continue to poke and prod, telling me what they've been told/promised. I'm not sure why they do this...maybe in the hopes of changing my mind and giving them my full support, therefore giving them some justification for pursuing it? I mean, what better argument for some people than, "Well, a professional model told me I should do it!" So along those lines of thinking I became curious. I know how such organizations operate when it comes to people who have no idea what to expect but what about someone with experience like myself? So I told the man on the phone to sign me up for a free audition the next day. I was undercover! Well, not really--I mean, I didn't go in with hidden microphones or video, but hey, they didn't know my true intentions for being there so that counts as being undercover, right? =)
I arrived early for my audition, was checked in and given a form to fill out. Then I was led to the main room, which was decorated with posters and pictures of actors and models that had been "discovered" through their school. I was already familiar with this whole process so I found a seat, filled out my form and whipped out a paperback novel to pass the time. The room quickly filled up with parents and children. There were a lot of babies and young toddlers as well as pre-teens and young adults. I think I was the oldest person there auditioning. The casting director soon appeared and gave us her spiel about getting into the industry. The majority of people there were interested in acting. When she asked if there were any models in the audience, I believe I was the only one who raised my hand. She asked me if I was 5'9" or 5'8". I told her no, that I was doing commercial/print. She was surprised by the fact that I knew the height requirements for each field, I guess they assume that 99.9% of the people that walk through their door don't know anything about the industry.
After her introductory speech, she explained that each of us would be meeting with either her or the other scouts in the room and asked to audition a short commercial (which I had received the night before and already had memorized). Then afterwards we would be asked to go into another room to do our commercial on camera. She said that not everyone would get a callback later on (which I was reluctant to believe), but that she wished us all good luck. After about 20 minutes it was my turn to meet directly with the casting director. I couldn't really tell what she thought of me after I told her that I had been a working model and actor who had an agency until recently. As part of my "story" I told her that when I got the call about the audition I figured if it could get me a step closer to a new agent, then why not check it out? She seemed pleased by the answer. Then she asked me to do my commercial for her. After I did it, she didn't have much to say in the way of criticism except that I needed training for my tone and pitch (I ignored this suggestion) but she said she had an idea for me since I didn't really need training, which I was surprised to hear. No pushing me to refine my skills or brush up on my profession? No sales pitch telling me how great I was but how much greater I would be if I took their classes? Instead she gave me a packet with information about a supposedly highly publicized convention that takes place twice a year. She said it was designed for those that already had experience but needed the exposure to get the attention of agencies, casting directors, etc.
She directed me to the video room, where I performed my commercial in front of the camera and then went home. I took some time to go over the packet she gave me and was pretty amused. While they did throw me a curve ball by not trying to get me to sign up for classes or training, they nonetheless wanted to make my dream come true...for a price. So how much would it take for me to be seen by hundreds of agencies, casting directors, and TV people: $3,900.00...and that's not including traveling expenses, transportation, or meals! Pretty crazy. I got a callback and was told to come in the next day to meet with them but I politely declined, saying that there was no way I could financially commit to such an event. Thankfully they didn't poke or prod for more information. They simply thanked me and that was it.
SO, that being said, the results of my undercover experience was pretty much what I expected. Although I was surprised they didn't try to get me to fork over money for classes, they did want me to pay out the nose for an opportunity to maybe be discovered. However, if I was already talented and auditioning in front of a casting director then I would think she would have snatched me up then and there and made some calls to get me seen. But in the world of the modeling school things don't work that way. Unlike other parts of the industry, it isn't who you know, it's how much you're willing to pay. And sad to say, I saw quite a number of kids and older people there that--to my trained eye as a professional--did not strike me as having potential to truly make it. But hey, that's just me.
My experience pretty much backed up my current position in regards to the whole modeling school/convention thing. So if you're an aspiring model hoping to take part in something like this, be forewarned: I won't tell you what you "want" to hear...I'll tell you what I believe you need to hear. In the end it is your decision--and your money.
(PS: In case you're wondering what modeling school it was, I'm going to err on the side of caution and not "out" the name of the place I went to so don't be sneaky and try to ask me in a comment where I went. Maybe if you shoot me an email I might tell you...then again, I might not!)